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Infringing on Bluetooth?

A Washington State research group claims three of the world's largest electronics makers are infringing on Bluetooth technology patents developed at the University of Washington.

In a lawsuit filed last month in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, the Washington Research Foundation (WRF), which licenses and manages patents developed by Washington State universities, claims Japan's Matsushita, Finland's Nokia and South Korea's Samsung are using unlicensed Bluetooth chipsets in their computers, cell phones and headsets.

The wireless Bluetooth technology was developed by Ericsson in the mid-1990s and made available at no cost to other companies to establish a wireless standard. But WRF claims in the lawsuit that University of Washington student Edwin Suominen developed technology for a "simplified high-frequency broadband tuner and tuning method" at the same time.

WRF holds four patents on the technology developed by Suominen. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages but asks the court to issue an injunction to stop Matsushita, Nokia and Samsung from selling their Bluetooth products.

The three companies buy their Bluetooth chipsets from CSR, a British chipmaker not named in the lawsuit. Nevertheless, CSR issued a statement that the lawsuit "is without merit in relation to CSR's Bluetooth chips and CSR will defend its products vigorously."

Nokia said it only recently received the complaint and is still evaluating WRF's claims. "Nokia intends to respond in the very near future," a company spokesman said.

Steven Lisa, the lawyer representing WRF, was unavailable for comment. Matsushita and Samsung did not return calls seeking comment on the lawsuit.

According to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), there are approximately 852 products from 358 different companies that use Bluetooth technology. The group claims more than 9.5 million Bluetooth products are shipping every week.

Bluetooth emerged in 1998 with the formation of the Bluetooth SIG and release of an initial specification the following year. Adoption of the technology was slow at first, but quickly picked up, as more vendors incorporated the low-power, short-range technology into small devices.